B.C. Premier John Horgan said Sunday that the province is currently at a "good point" with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, but one expert says there is little data to back up his comment.
Horgan was interviewed on CBC's Rosemary Barton Live, where he also talked about federal health-care spending and housing budgets.
With federal Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam confirming the country is in the middle of a sixth wave of COVID-19, Horgan was asked what he would say to those seeking a continuation of public health measures like wearing masks indoors.
He responded by pointing to the province's latest COVID-19 numbers, which showed a rise in hospitalizations but a steady number of patients in intensive care.
"ICU beds are at the lowest they've been in 18 months [in terms of] utilization here in British Columbia," Horgan said.
"We've seen lighter symptoms. I know I had very mild symptoms for my COVID experience."
The premier said there was an "extraordinarily" high vaccination rate in B.C. and Canada, and he would get his fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine when the time came.
But he did not comment on a potential return of the indoor mask mandate, or other public health requirements like the vaccine passport.
"I've got my mask with me when I'm in a place to be concerned about those around me," he said. "I think most Canadians are in that spot right now."
Horgan also asserted that there had been no outbreaks in schools when asked about B.C.'s low child vaccination rate.
"We're not seeing a lot of outbreaks in our K-12 system, and if they are, they've been mild," he said. "Would we use some more money for better HVAC systems in our schools? Of course we could.
"But we're at a good point. Be kind to each other, and wear a mask if you're uncomfortable."
Expert skeptical of claims
Andrew Longhurst, a health policy researcher and PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University, said that a lack of provincial data collection makes it tough to assess Horgan's comments about how B.C. is doing in the pandemic.
B.C. scaled back much of its data collection about the pandemic, especially testing, in the months leading up to the fifth wave, and also recently changed how it reports deaths from COVID-19. Now all deaths within 30 days of a positive test for the novel coronavirus will be counted, whether or not COVID-19 has been confirmed as an underlying cause of death.
Longhurst said the lack of high-quality data in recent weeks has left researchers relying on anecdotal evidence to analyze how B.C. is performing with respect to COVID-19.
"What I would say, very directly, is we do have wastewater surveillance data [in the Lower Mainland]," he told CBC News. "What it shows right now is that we are likely in an upward period — where we are seeing greater concentration of the virus picked up in wastewater.
"I think that would challenge this idea that things are stabilizing."
Longhurst says B.C. is likely still in the trough between the fifth and sixth wave of COVID-19, a few weeks behind Ontario, which has seen hospitalizations spike in recent weeks from the sixth wave.
He also pushed back on Horgan's claim that there are few outbreaks among children, saying that officials lack appropriate data to back it up, given the province stopped reporting outbreaks in schools since the fifth wave.
"Unfortunately, I get the sense that authorities don't actually want to collect the data," Longhurst said. "In some ways it's better to not know what's going on. And that allows you to play dumb."
Longhurst said the lack of public health measures, especially the indoor mask mandate, is concerning given the potential debilitating effect of long COVID and the impact of reinfections on peoples' immune systems.
"I will say that it's pretty clear … we have not reached 'herd immunity,' " he said. "And it's not going to be achieved, at least from what we're seeing. So I think this is a really important point that's not being communicated."
Longhurst said the province should be proactive and reinstate the indoor mask mandate, as well as provide broader communication about the importance of rapid tests and clean air in indoor shared spaces.